Gas Leak Fire Burns Streets Of D.C.

Firefighters worked quickly to contain a fire fueled by a major natural gas leak near George Washington University Hospital Tuesday morning


WASHINGTON - Firefighters worked quickly to contain a fire fueled by a major natural gas leak near George Washington University Hospital Tuesday morning.

The fire and gas leak forced the evacuation of the hospital's emergency room, closed a Metro station and shut down a number of roads.

"It appears this may have begun with a car fire," D.C. Fire and EMS spokesman Alan Etter tells WTOP.

Etter says the flames from the car fire at 23rd and George Washington Circle may have jumped to a leaking gas line on the east side of the street, where the old George Washington University Hospital is being demolished. There are backhoes and other construction equipment on the site.

The fire, which firefighters put out with water and foam, spread to the sidewalk and engulfed trees.

"The fire is out and nobody is hurt," says Etter.

D.C. Director of Emergency Management Peter LaPorte says the city was very lucky that no one was injured in the 10:30 a.m. fire.

Some on the scene described the fire as an "inferno."

"I see flames about seven feet high. You can smell gas in the air," says Patrick Farley, a WTOP caller who was on the scene when the fire started. "I can see the flames. They're pretty gruesome."

The gas has been turned off to the area, Etter and Washington Gas spokesman Tim Sargent say.

About hour after the fire started, natural gas could still be smelled from time to time at the scene, reports WTOP's Steve Eldridge.

It was the smell of natural gas that forced the Foggy Bottom Metro station to close. The trains are running through the station, but passengers are not being allowed to get off the trains.

Some Metro buses are being detoured, says Metro spokeswoman Cheryl Johnson.

Streets between K and G and between 21st and 24th Streets are closed as authorities establish a perimeter around the fire.

At George Washington University Hospital, the emergency room closed and about 700 people, including 120 patients, had to be evacuated from the hospital.

"We evacuated about half the patients out of the hospital in about 20 minutes," Dan Mclean, chief executive officer of the hospital.

The remaining patients were in the intensive care unit or could not be moved, he says.

Patients who were in surgery and in the middle of a procedure had their surgeries finished. One of the patients was having open heart surgery at the time.

Those whose surgeries had not started had them delayed.

Dr. John Williams, provost for George Washington University and vice president of student affairs, says, "Patients were moved very smoothly."

Hospital officials say they will evaluate their response, but say previous events, including the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack at the Pentagon and the anthrax scare two years ago, helped prepare them to respond to Tuesday's natural gas leak.